Cocaine Bear:"Just play dead”
“Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes the bear eats you” is a variation of an adage that goes back to the US essayist, lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 –1882) and continued through The Arizona Republican newspaper (1912), textbook Man in Nature: America Before the Days of the White Men (1939) and Sports Illustrated magazine (1963) until its reference in The Coen Brothers’ movie The Big Lebowski (1998).
In 2023, that saying gets teeth in Elizabeth Bank’s Cocaine Bear. If you’re in any doubt about who eats whom in Cocaine Bear, I’d place my money on the bear. If you go out to the woods today, you’re not going to find a teddy bear’s picnic.
If you go out to the woods today...
Before we go any further, let's address the white elephant in the room—the reasons for making and watching a film such as Cocaine Bear—except the white elephant is a brown bear plus the white of the elephant is cocaine not the colour of the elephant.
Cocaine Bear fits into a maligned category of film labelled schlock horror. Take a ridiculous idea like a bear and cocaine, add dubious humour, cringeworthy dialogue sometimes laced with expletives, severed limbs, lashings of blood and the general feeling that the movies have no artistic or social value. With Cocaine Bear, the rider “Inspired by true events” makes it all the more delectable. You wouldn’t believe that something like this could actually happen. But it did. Inspired by true events...sort of. Loosely.
Except that in the real world tragedy that inspired Cocaine Bear, the ingestion of cocaine by a bear, as one would assume, had fatal consequences for the bear. But in the movie, the cocaine turns the computer-generated bear into a ferocious cocaine dependant predator with fatal consequences for anyone that gets between a bear and its cocaine.
Official Trailer Cocaine Bear
“Schlock films are horror films. Generally produced on a low budget, and are full of gags or comedy. Think of micro-budget, monster movies that mix a bit of satire and irrelevant humor into the halfhearted plot”. Beverly Boy Productions
There is even a movie titled Schlock (1973), the directorial debut of John Landis, who also starred as Schlock, a prehistoric ape creature who terrorises Southern California. The feature-length parody of 1950s monster movies was shot in 12 days in the Los Angeles area and had a budget of approximately $60,000, half of which came from Landis' personal savings. You get the drift.
Schlock movies can be made by high profile and acclaimed directors such as Sam Raimi and George Romero and often acquire cult classic status. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 is definitely a cult classic. A severed arm (involves a close encounter with a chainsaw) possessed by evil spirits is captured and isolated under a bucket to prevent the evil forces inhabiting the arm’s owner’s body. That’s the horror element. To keep the arm secure under the bucket, the protagonist places a collection of books on top of the bucket. The topmost book is Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Need I say more? If that didn’t put a smile on your face, make you laugh or groan—either response is acceptable—then schlock is not for you. The misguided comments by people who apply star ratings and debate the quality of schlock horror miss the point.
Schlock movies can be some of the best fun you can have watching movies.
That’s enough about schlock. You want to get to the grist of Cocaine Bear. A drug dealer dumps bags of cocaine from a plane in an attempt to steal from his South American drug cartel. Two children wander into the woods on Blood Mountain—the name of the mountain is a hint of what’s about to happen—without their mothers’ permission. A succession of characters, including park rangers inspecting the national park, the mother searching for her children, villains searching for the cocaine, police tracking the criminals and one mean bear, also wander onto Blood Mountain. What could go wrong?
A bear snorting cocaine and tourists in the woods. What could go wrong?
You need to add a massive amount of cocaine, a gigantic predator brown bear and join the line between the two, in this case, a line of cocaine, and you have one hell of a ride, most probably in an ambulance. Forget star ratings and Oscar nominations. Cocaine Bear is a formulaic film. The equation is cocaine + bear = visceral horror + offbeat comedy = fun + unabashed thrills.
You could talk about the film being about a parent protecting her young children and the analogous situation for the bear protecting its cubs, the scourge of drugs, and the endangerment of animals and their habitat. We can explore environmental messages and relate to the natural beauty of the forest setting but, fundamentally, humans will be eaten in bite-sized chunks. The villainous drug dealers with guns are as great a threat to the bear as the cocaine-fuelled deranged bear is to humans.
"Just play dead"
You already know it’s not about environmental messages. It’s about the bear. The bear is at the top of the food chain. Despite the vicious and murderous nature of cocaine bear, we develop a caring attitude. We don’t want the bear to be harmed. That would cross the line from schlock and turn the movie into a tragedy. What about the human victims? Those who are good at heart are likely to survive while the dastardly villains will be torn asunder. That’s how it works and that’s how we want it to work.
There is all manner of advice about what to do if confronted by a bear in the wild. The Scandinavian tourists in the movie repeat a line about bears from the tourist’s handbook: “If it’s black, fight back; if it’s brown, lie down” and “Just play dead”. With Cocaine Bear, the key word in any of the advice is "dead". You’re pretty certain you will die. There’s no playing dead. You will be dead after first being dismembered. It’s a bear fuelled by brick sized packets of cocaine. Before you say that’s a preposterous notion, look back to the advice about the niche within which Cocaine Bear falls. Cocaine plus Bear. There is no expectation of reality or plausibility or reasonableness. It is designed to tantalise… and it exceeds expectations.
"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you"
A judgement about Cocaine Bear might be best summed up by one of director Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson’s earliest films, Bad Taste. Bad Taste is both the name of the movie and a description of its content. There you have it. You’e either going to embrace schlock horror movies or run for the hills to avoid watching them. Either way, with Cocaine Bear, there is only one thing to do, just grin and...bear it.
FILM EXTRAS: FILMS THAT WILL SCHLOCK YOU
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda find a log cabin in the woods with a voice recording from an archeologist who had recorded himself reciting ancient chants from "The Book of the Dead." As they play the recording, an evil power is unleashed taking over Linda's body.
Bad Taste (1987)
A team from the intergalactic fast food chain Crumb's Crunchy Delights descends on Earth, planning to make human flesh the newest taste sensation. After they wipe out the New Zealand town Kaihoro, the country’s Astro-Investigation and Defence Service (AIaDS) is called in to deal with the problem. Things are complicated due to Giles, an aid worker who comes to Kaihoro the same day to collect charity donations from the residents. He is captured by the aliens, and AIaDS stages a rescue mission that quickly becomes an all-out assault on the aliens’ headquarters.
Bad Taste is not available for streaming.
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1998)
Jack Spade returns from the army in his old ghetto neighbourhood when his brother, June Bug, dies. Jack declares war on Mr. Big, a powerful local crime lord. His army is led by John Slade, his childhood idol who used to fight bad guys in the 70s. Mayhem ensues.
Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
When the grandson of a gun wielding woman is murdered by neo-nazi surf punks in the post-apocalyptic future, this grandma hunts them down for some bloodthirsty revenge.
Surf Nazis Must Die is not available for streaming.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Voted the Worst Movie of All Time
Directed by Ed Wood, Jr., one of the worst directors of all time.
Residents of California's San Fernando Valley are under attack by flying saucers from outer space. The aliens intend to conquer the planet by resurrecting corpses in a Hollywood cemetery. The living dead stalk curious humans who wander into the cemetery looking for evidence of the UFOs.
Robot Monster (1953)
Also Voted the Worst Movie of All Time
An alien that looks like a gorilla with a helmet has almost completely wiped out the human species from the face of Earth. As he hunts down the final six survivors, he ends up falling in love with the young woman of the group.
Free. Don't blame me if you watch it. Then again, if you like it, "You're welcome."